Chiefs, Titans meet to end years of postseason futility
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland was in swaddling blankets the previous time Kansas City won a home playoff game.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill was nestled comfortably in the womb.
It was January 1994, Joe Montana was the quarterback and the Chiefs beat the Steelers on an overtime field goal by Nick Lowery to advance.
And it’s hard to believe anybody packed inside Arrowhead Stadium that day imagined a quarter century would pass without another home playoff win.
“It would be nice to break that,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “but you can’t add any extra motivation once you get to this stage. This is all the work we’ve been putting in as this team from day-one — this team. When we were putting in our goals and talking about that.
“It’s tough to add any more motivation with historic streaks or things like that.”
Besides, the Titans (9-7) are trying to end their own maddening stretch of playoff futility.
Tennessee rumbles into Kansas City for the wild-card round Saturday in its first postseason trip since 2008, when the Titans were the AFC’s top seed.
If they can waltz out with a win, as they did in 2016, it would be their first playoff victory since January 2004.
“It’s playoff time,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said. “I dream about ... matchups, about going up against guys like (Travis) Kelce and going up against Andy Reid, a Hall of Fame-level coach. He’s a great coach. And going into Arrowhead Stadium, one of the louder stadiums, I don’t think there’s better you can ask for in the first week of the playoffs.”
Indeed, there are story lines galore in a game that could be overshadowed by higher-profile matchups, or perhaps overlooked because of the Chiefs’ midseason swoon and the Titans’ late-season slump.
Smith is trying to validate the best season of his career in what could be his final game for the Chiefs (10-6). Hill is hoping to show off his world-class speed on a national stage.
And running back Kareem Hunt, who won the NFL rushing title this season, will have a chance to etch his name alongside the likes of Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell as one of the league’s best.
“If you lose, you go home,” Hunt said simply. “Everybody is giving their all not to go home.”
On the flip side, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will try to rewrite the story of an up-and-down season with his playoff debut. Running back Derrick Henry and his supporting cast will help. And embattled coach Mike Mularkey will try to prove he was the right man for the job all along.
“The intensity and everything goes up when you get to this point,” Mularkey said.
As the Titans prepare to visit the Chiefs, here are a few more story lines to watch:
DEEP THREAT: The Chiefs lost kick returner Akeem Hunt to an injury last weekend against Denver, and special teams coach Dave Toub said Hill could return against the Titans. The speedster was taken off that particular duty this season to keep him fresher for the offense.
Toub was asked what the Chiefs lost in that sacrifice. “Maybe two touchdowns,” he said flatly.
SPEAKING OF SPECIAL TEAMS: The Titans beat the Chiefs 19-17 in December 2016 on a game-ending field goal by Ryan Succop, who had spent most of his career with Kansas City. Succop came up short on his first attempt at the 53-yarder, but Reid had called timeout just before to give him another shot.
Succop made the mulligan for a victory in the coldest game in franchise history.
MARIOTA’S MOMENT: The Titans’ young quarterback had struggled down the stretch, when they lost three straight to fall off the playoff pace.
But while his numbers against Jacksonville last week to help clinch a postseason berth were modest, several teammates said Mariota got his swagger back.
“It was just me being me,” he said. “Again, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. This is the time in the season when you’ve just got to lay it all on the line.”
WATCH FOR FLAGS: The Chiefs were among the most penalized teams in the NFL this season, getting flagged 118 teams. The Titans were the second-best in the league, drawing just 85 penalties — second-fewest in franchise history for a 16-game season. In a playoff game with razor-thin margins, penalties could be the difference between winning and losing.
ARROWHEAD MYSTIQUE: The weather should be in the 40s for kickoff Saturday, or about 40 degrees warmer than when these teams met last season.
That should make it more comfortable for players, but also fans that will be plenty lubricated from their tailgates by the late afternoon kickoff.
“There’s nothing like Arrowhead Stadium when that place is packed,” Reid said, “and it’s a little cold and the ground is shaking a little bit. It doesn’t get any better.”